Don't Make The Same Mistake Twice

Len Pasquarelli warns GM Scott Pioli to avoid a repeat of history but breaking away from his own past, and resist the urge to commit to Bill Belichick proteges such as KC's interim head coach Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels and Kirk Ferentz when plotting the future of the Chiefs.

Familiarity doesn't always breed contempt. Sometimes it engenders failure as well, and the Monday morning dismissal of coach Todd Haley by the normally stabile Kansas City Chiefs was just the latest example.

   Hired three seasons ago, the first major move in general manager Scott Pioli's tenure with the franchise, Haley was 19-27 as head coach, and more than half of those victories came in 2010, when the Chiefs won the AFC West title.

   The book on Haley, who except for a two-year stint as offensive coordinator in Arizona (2007-2008), had pretty much been a position assistant in the league: He served as the wide receivers coach of the New York Jets 1997-2000, when Pioli was the director of pro personnel for the club, and he had impressed Pioli those four years.

   The assistant head coach of the Jets for three of those four seasons? None other than Bill Belichick, who ostensibly has been Pioli's mentor much of his career.

   OK, so Haley doesn't quite qualify for a limb of the Belichick coaching tree. But he essentially sprouted from an acorn that fell from the tree.

   And, given the Belichick-Pioli connection, it doesn't exactly take a six-degrees-of-separation exercise to make the link. The league is pockmarked with former Belichick coaching proteges who fell far shy of sharing the genius DNA. And now a protege of Belichick's most notable personnel protege, Pioli, has potholed as well.

   Another veteran coach with strong ties to the Belichick and Pioli lineage, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, has been named as the Chiefs' interim coach for the final three games of the season. A good man Crennel, who despite his 24-40 record in four seasons with the Cleveland Browns, is probably deserving of another shot at an NFL head coach gig.

   But not with the Chiefs.

   Not for his good and Pioli's as well.

   Sometimes the tried and true isn't quite trite and true, and a team and a general manager are better served moving outside the comfort zone. That time seems to have come for Pioli, whose second coaching hire figures to be just as scrutinized as the decision to bring Haley aboard in 2009. And for the Chiefs, who until Monday morning had not jettisoned a coach in-season since Paul Wiggin in 1977.

   What did sticking with the familiar get Pioli in his first GM slot? Sure, it earned him a division crown in only his second season running his own operation, but he ended up warring with Haley and canning him after less than three full seasons.

   A quick note here about in-season coaching changes: For the last few years, we have penned several columns about how they don't generally reverse a team's fortunes, how replacement coaches have won fewer than one-third of their games, and how owners had been reluctant to opt for the "interim" route. That certainly has changed the past two seasons. There were four coaches fired during the 2010 season, now two this year, and the six equals the number of head coaches who were either fired or resigned in the previous five seasons combined.

   So, clearly, things have changed.

   It's been just a few hours since Haley's pink-slip was delivered, although the two sides apparently spent much of Sunday night hammering out a settlement, and the dismissal was rumored over the past month. In the instant-assessment environment that accompanies the media anymore, the always-be-first mindset that pervades all of news coverage and subverts meaningful analysis, some names of potential candidates have already been suggested. Not that we're above such conjecture or scattershot speculation -- which is really all it is -- but from quickly speaking with a mid-level management type in the Chiefs' front office early Monday afternoon, even the team doesn't have a clue yet about where it will turn next.

   Forget the so-called "short list." A "long list" doesn't even exist yet.

   But when it does, when Pioli and owner Clark Hunt sit down and draw up a list of potential replacements, it probably shouldn't include Crennel. Or Josh McDaniels, another Belichick creation who already has one strike against him as a head coach, and who ironically is the Chiefs' offensive coordinator. Or Eric Mangini. Or anyone else with ties to the Belichick-Pioli glory years with the Patriots.

   Pioli is one of the brightest, most astute football people we know, and we're hardly qualified to offer advice. That said, this suggestion, humbly offered: It's time, Scott, to plant a new tree.

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008. 

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